Prosecutors ask judge to dismiss Strauss-Kahn sex assault case

District attorney withdraws charges after accuser's credibility is called into question

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The only thing certain about what happened in Suite 2806 of Manhattan's Sofitel Hotel around noon on Saturday, 14 May, is that it won't be for a criminal jury to decide.

Prosecutors in New York last night formally asked a judge for permission to drop the sexual assault charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, in a decision that was as sensational in its own way as the arrest of the French political grandee three months ago.

For the aggressive district attorney's office in Manhattan, whose staff had paraded Mr Strauss-Kahn in handcuffs for the world's media, it was an acceptance that the testimony of his accuser, a hotel maid called Nafissatou Diallo, was not likely to be persuasive beyond a reasonable doubt.

For Mr Strauss-Kahn, it means the end of a three-month ordeal that has taken him through the notorious Rikers Island jail and through electronic tagging under house arrest in Manhattan. Today, he is likely to have his passport returned, and in France the question is how soon he will return – and in what capacity – to political influence within the Socialist party he sought to represent in next year's election. Ms Diallo was called last night to a meeting with prosecutors, a meeting her lawyers suspected would tell her what she had hoped never to hear, namely that the district attorney would no longer pursue her allegation that Mr Strauss-Kahn forced her to perform oral sex and attempted to rape her.

The maid had told police that Saturday lurid details of how Mr Strauss-Kahn had emerged naked from the bathroom of his $3,000-per-night suite while she had started to clean. In leaks and press briefings, it was said that her claims included being dragged across the hotel room. None of this was true, Mr Strauss-Kahn's lawyers furiously claimed, though his incarceration forced him to quit as head of the International Monetary Fund.

In court papers, prosecutors said they "no longer have confidence" that Mr Strauss-Kahn is guilty, since the maid gave them three different versions of the encounter. "The nature and number of the complainant's falsehoods leaves us unable to credit her version of events beyond a reasonable doubt, whatever the truth may be about the encounter between the complainant and the defendant," the papers said. "If we do not believe her beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot ask a jury to do so." In recent weeks, evidence emerged that cast doubt on Ms Diallo's credibility. Prosecutors said they turned up inconsistencies in her application for asylum in the US, long before she ever encountered Mr Strauss-Kahn, and found evidence that made them suspicious about her account of the Sofitel incident, too. In a recorded conversation between Ms Diallo and a man detained in an Arizona jail, she said words to the effect that "this guy has a lot of money. I know what I am doing".

It was after that conversation was translated that prosecutors went to court last month to ask that Mr Strauss-Kahn be released from house arrest, and it started to look likely that he would eventually be freed from the charges. To say that he emerges without a stain on his character, however, would not be a reflection of the truth. In the days after his arrest, dragged from the first-class cabin of a flight bound for Paris, French media began examining allegations of his unwanted sexual advances towards other women.

Meanwhile, in the US, Ms Diallo has decided that defending her own character involves a public campaign for justice through the civil courts and through the media. She has launched her own lawsuit against Mr Strauss-Kahn that could still mean their two stories are compared in court. And she has appeared in television and magazine interviews, including one, on ABC TV, in which she tearfully went over the alleged attack. "I want him to know that there is some place you cannot use your money, you cannot use your power, when you do something like this," she said then.

Ms Diallo emerged last night from her meeting, with her lawyer, Kenneth Thompson. "Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has denied the right of a woman to get justice in a rape case," he said. "He has not only turned his back on this innocent victim, but he has also turned his back on the forensic, medical and other physical evidence in this case."

Mr Strauss-Kahn is scheduled to go before a judge one final time this morning. His lawyers, William Taylor and Benjamin Brafman, said: "We have maintained from the beginning that our client is innocent. We also maintained that there were many reasons to believe that Mr Strauss-Kahn's accuser was not credible."